What is money? How does it work? Is it a product of nature? Is it eternal? Will it always do its job? Does it stay the same? Is it the same for everybody? Can we count on it? How do we care for it?

Seriously. Give these a shot. Because money is easily presumed, we need to know, and we must be financially literate ourselves if we expect our clients to be.

Take your time. Get a cup of coffee. Walk around a bit. We're in no hurry. But give it some effort. Because if you have any claim to this profession, you ought to be able to say something here. After all, money is our stuff. No money, no financial planning. No lots of things. We would be doing pelt planning or conch-shell planning. Or something. These questions are not merely hypothetical.

Of course, there are textbook answers: A medium of exchange. Or, a measure of value. A belief system. The love of it being the root of all evil. And so on. Not much help.

Think again: What is money? And how do we care for it?

I suggest money is the planet's lifeblood. It is not "just money" as in bygone days when most folks operated mostly independent of it. Rather, as with our bodies' blood, it is essential to the body social and all that is, in turn, dependent upon the body social. Namely everything. Without it, no science. No electricity. No computers or communications systems. No politics. No law. No welfare. No social services. No militaries. No education. No business. No 6 billion people. Also, of course, less environmental abuse and more ecological integrity. Less crowding, etc. Not everything about money is good. It is just that it is ubiquitous. Scratch any subject, any relationship, any major issue, and you will find money. Regardless of what you think about it. This is neither political nor doctrinal. Whatever the surface, money is either on it or just barely beneath it.

But somewhere within the realm of these analogies, the body metaphors fall short. Money is not lifeblood in the physical sense. Perhaps it is more spiritual than physical because money is a belief system: It does nothing unless we collectively believe it does something and is worth something. Beliefs are inside out, relaying upon the intangible, the ineffable, the spiritual-namely, the interior-for their being. No interior, no money. Messy interior, messy money.

Which is to say that healthy money requires our fealty, respect and kindness. Money vigor, individual or social, relies on financial literacy, financial values and financial intelligence, individual and social. Without them, it does not work to maximum efficiency. Abused over time, it may not work at all.

Why care? Clearly, the most serious single threat to our clients' financial security is the potential collapse of the money systems. This would come from the inside out. From the interior. It would come from repeated failures by many people to understand what money is about, including its limitations, requirements and vulnerabilities. It would come from an unjustified belief that money is eternal, natural and indestructible and not temporal, manmade and susceptible to abuse.

Accordingly, it seems incumbent upon the financial planning profession to understand, support and defend money. From and within individuals and communities. From the inside out. From the interior. With literacy.

The Rant


Open the newspaper, there it is. Turn on the television, there it is again. Listen to talk radio ... yep.

Grab a bite at any public establishment, turn your ears up to moderately snoopy-and it's still there.

Just listen to the folks around you. What do they think, believe and feel about money? Do they really understand it? Pierce any piece of political propaganda for its underlying assumptions. Walk down McMansion Street and listen to the winds of public dialogue. The so-called right tells us anyone can do it. The so-called left says it is society's fault. Each side has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to abuse the money.

The brokerage firms can't find any bad stocks or smell a bear market from downwind. Our media is ... well, you know. Lawyers disengage their advocacy from its economic consequences, presupposing that the goose can be filleted without serious consequences and that storks constantly bring new money into the world. Inheritors fail to grasp the link between wealth and production and personal responsibility. Politicians can't get a grip on any of it. Even serious business folks think there is virtue in its manipulation. Like the money can't be damaged.

Social engineers of all stripes rarely anticipate their off-balance-sheet consequences. Early retirement? Children? Land-use planning? Our collective address of serious issues seemingly presupposes the benevolence of social arbitrage and permanent cost deferral.

Japan thought it could change the rules of the marketplace. And we must all weep for Argentina.

Ponder the inherent propositions of virtually all socioeconomic debate. Does capital have divine rights? Or should it serve all of us effectively? Should it be eliminated? Or divided equally? If so, what is equally?

Consider almost all debates of all sorts from sports, to the arts, to education, and so it goes. Now think about any of this in relation to money. Is money capable of absorbing such abuse? Or does it require its own care and feeding?

We expect so much from our money. And we just take it for granted, like it has always been there and always will be. Like we can mess with it and suffer no consequences.

We expect it to feed the hungry and care for the poor, the young and the old. And the incapable. And the self-abusing. And the lazy. And the economy. And the money-grubbing rich. And the money-eschewing esthetes. And new enterprises. And inventions. And research. And trips to Mars.

We collectively believe that our public money should assure and enable peace in our time. It should provide personal and public security. It should support our jobs, our industries and our culture, while preserving our resources, our history and our pre-eminence as a world power. And, oh yeah, provide for limitless educational opportunities, leaving no child behind and treating all children equally unless they are handicapped or gifted (in which case they need more money). And significantly subsidize our transportation systems. And maintain the viability of our financial structures. And give us games.

And we all want lower taxes. And for everybody else to spend money because it holds up the economy. But, our private money is ours. (Actually, what's yours is ours. What's mine is mine.) Except that money has no power except with reference to other money. And plastic power evaporates. And we need to understand all this.

Or is it all just financial illiteracy writ large?

Return From The Rant

This is not inherently evil. Just scary. To make money work requires genuine understanding of wealth, wealth creation and, most especially, wealth maintenance. And an understanding of wealth and how wealth differs from money.

Truth is, money generally delivers. It is more forgiving than what may seem intuitive. We can, indeed, mess with it within limits. But we can't push those limits beyond their tolerances indefinitely. It simply won't work.

Money is hands-down humankind's most pervasive and effective innovation. But it has created its own immutable laws. I suggest we violate these laws at our peril. Disrespecting money has consequences-ugly ones.

Repeat: The potential collapse of the money systems is the biggest single threat to our clients' financial security.

Can't happen? Sure it can. John Law was here. Tulip bulbs were here. And post-World War I Germany. And post-Cold War Soviet Union. Spanish kings and queens sucked the very life from their empire as have many, many dynasties of many, many sorts who thought that money not only grew on trees, but also that these trees grew to the sky. Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations. Also, miscellaneous stock manias and mini-

gimmicks like sports cards, comic books, Beanie Babies. And lots of corporations. (Can anybody say "Enron"?) And lots of fast money-recipients. And the lore of Midas. And the empty bravado of Ozymandias. And the golden goose. And the three wishes disasters. And Humpty Dumpty. And all the king's horses and all the king's men-had to be financed by extraordinary taxes, dictatorial oppression and constant abuse of police powers sucking the common weal for ... What!? They messed with their money. Where are they now? And the guys holding signs on our street corners and on-ramps. And the millions stuck in lives of quiet despair. Some are our loved ones. Some are our clients.

Does anybody remember ... causes? Consequences?

Money has its own cures for its abuse. Not pretty. You mess with the money, you got a problem.


Financial illiteracy. IT'S EVERYWHERE! Financial literacy. It is our stuff.

Where is John Gault when we need him?

The Thoughts

I suggest this means grasping the interior-finance portion of Integral Finance. This is not just "life planning"; this means understanding money from the inside out for both individuals and various social units.

Because this is a very big deal.

The implications could be extraordinary. Money is no longer a convenience. It is lifeblood. This is not 1929. Most of us don't grow our own food. Most of us do not have resources for generating noncash wealth independently of each other. The money forces have embedded themselves into every aspect of our lives, individually and collectively. It leaves no aspect untouched.


We can't mess with the money indefinitely. Money has a way of messing back. When money messes back, it is not pretty. We need to "get it." We need to understand it. And speak for it. Honor it. Respect it. And be literate with it.

The Mostly Levelheaded Non-Rant

Capitalism presumes an intelligent informed citizenry. It anticipates that each of us understands our own needs and will work purposefully to serve them. It supposes that the great big collective "WE" will sensibly take the actions required to meet them, in the contexts of our money systems, with personal responsibility and general independence from the kindnesses of others. It further assumes that this citizenry has the collective capacity to translate this knowledge, understanding and actions into vital functioning money serving itself and its needs absolutely. This is not natural law. The planet will function regardless. It just might function with fewer humans. Many fewer.

This requires financial literacy ... understanding money from the inside out.

Integral Financial Literacy Conclusion

Money demands understanding and faithfulness.

Because money is a belief system and interior support of money allows it to be. And messing with the money is a recipe for disaster.

We must understand money from the inside out. And address financial literacy issues. And help anyone within our penumbra of influence to understand money better and be literate about the money for themselves, their families, their communities, their regions, their nations and their planet.

Because money is our life's blood. It is our creation that will feed and sustain us for only so long as we keep it healthy and vital. If we understand it and care for it, it will be most amazing. If we fail ... Not an option? Think again.

Responsibility? Yours? Mine? Ours?

Money is a gift. It deserves our care, respect and understanding. From inside.

Richard B. Wagner, JD, CFP, is the principal of WorthLiving, LLC, based in Denver. He has been a practicing financial advisor for more than 18 years and is a national past president of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners.